I received this in the Product Hunt newsletter today:

Little known fact: your favorite fonts aren't free.

The owners of your favorite fonts – Garamond, Times New Roman, Georgia – charge businesses who use their font on their website, app, and advertisements.

Instead of paying millions of dollars for licenses, tech companies are starting to design their own fonts.

I knew that they have proprietary licenses—but does that imply that they are not freebies for businesses?

How does the owner of Times New Roman, charge a business for using the font for commercial use?

Also, does it mean that if a company uses Times New Roman for commercial use, it is something illegal? If not, why would a business pay for such a font?

  • 1
    "How does Microsoft, let's say, charge a business for using Times New Roman for commercial use?" I would assume the license fee is included in the price of any copies of Office, etc. you buy. Have you ever noticed that student editions of Office products usually say "not for commercial use" or something similar in the title bar?
    – JAB
    May 25 '18 at 15:19
  • @JAB Good point, but... currently, I'm using a Mac and it seems I do have the Times New Roman font installed, even I didn't install any apps from Microsoft. May 25 '18 at 15:20
  • Then Apple probably (reluctantly) licensed it from Microsoft in order to properly display all the many documents and websites that specify Times New Roman as their display font. Also note that for websites/apps/e-books/etc. there's a difference between specifying a font to use (no license needed by the website/app/e-book creators) and embedding the font directly (license needed for distribution). It's a pretty complicated topic, though, and my knowledge is still fairly limited, unfortunately, so I can't provide much more information.
    – JAB
    May 25 '18 at 15:23
  • 9
    Just for future reference. Apple did not license it from Microsoft. They licensed from Linotype.
    – Oddthinking
    May 26 '18 at 1:40
  • 3
    Why would you assume that Microsoft owns Times New Roman?
    – phoog
    May 29 '18 at 23:16

I selected Times New Roman as an example for this answer.

The Wikipedia page on Times New Roman does a better job than I could of explaining the history of the typeface, including that, yes, its owner, Monotype has a proprietary licence available for it.

Licenses can be purchased from Monotype. [I hope you will appreciate this is a reference to show that licenses are for sale, and not an advert or endorsement.]

Microsoft directs people to license the font directly from Monotype.

Don't confuse Monotype's Times New Roman with the visually very similar Linotype's Times Roman.

  • 3
    As part of the question, there assumes some enforcement against businesses who've not purchased licenses. You haven't answered this. Does monotype et al follow up and actually collect on these?
    – fredsbend
    May 25 '18 at 20:22
  • 2
    @fredsbend: I found cases where Monotype went to court with big players like Microsoft and ITC. I found a case where Monotype sued someone for copying their trademarked font name. I found cases where other font owners sued Hasbro and other end users of their fonts. I found the law to be complex. I haven't found a specific case of Monotype ending up in court with someone who used their font without permission (and didn't respond to demands).
    – Oddthinking
    May 26 '18 at 1:39

If you have a Mac, the "FontBook" application displays all the fonts, with lots of individual information, including the licensing information. In the case of Times New Roman, the following licensing information is there:

This typeface is the property of Monotype Typography and its use by you is covered under the terms of a license agreement. You have obtained this typeface software either directly from Monotype or together with software distributed by one of Monotype's licensees.

This software is a valuable asset of Monotype. Unless you have entered into a specific license agreement granting you additional rights, your use of this software is limited to your workstation for your own publishing use. You may not copy or distribute this software.

If you have any question concerning your rights you should review the license agreement you received with the software or contact Monotype for a copy of the license agreement

You can use this font on a website, as long as the website only tells the browser "use Times New Roman to display this text" but doesn't contain the font itself. That's what most websites do. Anyone with a browser on a computer having Times New Roman installed (practically everyone) can read the site. If it is not installed, then the browser will more or less cleverly select a different font that is installed.

You can develop an advertisement with that font on your computer. Then you send it to a printer, and you can bet the printer has a license. You could technically embed the font in an eBook or PDF file, which would be illegal. For that you would need a license. However, there is no need to embed it, just rely on others to have it installed on their computers.

The situation is different if you want to use one of the thousands of fonts that you can buy but that is not widely available. In that case you need to pay more for a more permissive license, because for example users wouldn't see your website with your font if you don't embed the font in the website. And your printer won't print your poster if they have to shell out for your font.

PS. According to FontBook, the name of the font on my Mac is "Monotype:Times New Roman Regular:Version 3.05 (Microsoft)", but that is just a name, not something that gives Microsoft any rights.

There is also the "Times" font, which according to FontBook has the name "Times Roman; 13.0d2e19; 2017-07-11", and copyright notices from Apple Computer Inc, LinoType AG, Type Solutions Inc, and The Font Bureau Inc. No license text available, but Apple has a generic license somewhere on their website which is not unsimilar to the MonoType one.

  • The source was clearly specified: FontBook application, installed with the operating system on every Mac. There are about 100 million people who can verify this in a minute.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 2 '18 at 11:13
  • 2
    Embedding fonts in PDFs is not illegal - it depends on the font's license. Jun 3 '18 at 11:11

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